Relax Much? The benefits of relaxation.

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We all know we need to do it, plenty of articles and programs in the media advise it, health experts warn that if we don’t we are more prone to health issues and the dreaded stress related illnesses BUT what does relaxation actually mean and can it really help?

Wikipedia definition – Relaxation stands quite generally for a release of tension, a return to equilibrium.

It’s a buzz word in modern society which leads us to spend as much time discovering how we can achieve that ‘ultimate’ state of relaxation and calm. As a busy mum, yeah right!

Seriously through, relaxation is not difficult, but it does need a conscious effort and a need to make small changes in our frantic lifestyle.

Frantic – no matter what we tell ourselves, equals stress. We all need a certain level of stress in our lives to get us motivated and moving, a bit of Adrenalin to get us fired up, also called challenge stress.  It is the stress space we are in when we face a challenging situation at work or the children throw us that curve ball, where we are able to take that deep breath and respond calmly and clearly.

However if we are faced with the stress which leads us to screaming blue murder and hyperventilating on the spot, we are less likely to be in a state of mind to face whatever the day is bringing us, and are more likely to be flopping at the end of the day and reaching for that glass of wine.

Relaxation can be the difference between the challenge ‘i’m up for it’ response and the threat ‘the world is going to end’ nightmare.

When we are in our ‘stressed out’ state of mind we are in our emotional brain. The bit that just reacts, that doesn’t think things through. This part of our brain has been with us through evolution, it gives us our survival responses, our fight and flight – remember the woolly mammoth, it is this part of our brain which is primed to run away or stand and fight for our lives.

The thing is, we don’t need to respond in this way anymore when faced with a stressful situation, and yet our body still reacts as if it is facing a life or death situation, meaning we have huge amounts of adrenalin shooting through our system that we don’t use up by running away or exerting ourselves by fighting.  Side effects of this excess adrenalin and cortisol (another stress hormone) are weight gain, over eating, sleep issues and anxiety.

So how do we dilute the stress that has become so prevalent in our busy lives?

By finding ways that work for us to relax.  By stating ‘work for us’ this is not a one size fits all approach. Many people think that certain things will be better than others to help calm the physical body and mind but this is never the case. For example, long held are the virtues of yoga for ultimate relaxation, which I advocate and support. However, I prefer Pilates, I find it helps me release the tension in my body and helps my mind feel so much calmer, slowing everything down.  Some people find that moving their body through activities like running, helps the tension release, the release of positive mind chemicals like endorphin’s others will feel the need to stop and read or walk.

In short, it really doesn’t matter what you do, experimenting is absolutely key to it’s success in helping you feel less stressed, more relaxed and calmer as a mum.

Now, here’s the secret bit, the bit that is going to stop you spend hours trying to find ‘your activity’ of choice.  Our brains actually can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, meaning that even if you imagine yourself doing something rather than actually doing it, this can still have the same impact, and effect on our mind and the chemicals buzzing around our brain.

Don’t believe me?  Some of the best athletes in the world run through their events in their head over and over again, training their brain to imagine their success in their event to the point that they induce the feelings and emotions of actually winning. Doing this means that the body and mind develops a memory of the way it is going to be, as if they had trained in that way every single day.

As mums, we can do that too, using guided relaxation techniques which help us imagine and visualise a feeling of calm as well as focusing on parts of our body where we want to release tension, known as progressive muscle relaxation. If we physically stop to do this, we can start to let our mind relax a bit too.  Don’t get me wrong, if you are used to living life at 100 mph then it will take time to wind down and feel a consistent benefit, relaxation has a cumulative effect, so you are training your body to learn HOW to relax, and then it becomes easier and more automatic.

The changes might be subtle.  Not flying off the handle when the children forget their lunch, again. Feeling that pressure when you are running around picking up everyone elses dirty washing while they are watching TV. You can teach your body to respond differently, but you do have to start somewhere. So the next time someone tells you to relax, you won’t want to whack them round the head with a wet fish because you appreciate the benefits of relaxation for you, and for your family.

Relaxation is not a buzz word, it is hugely beneficial for you physical, and mental health.

Love Clare x

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